tv Tavis Smiley WHUT March 2, 2011 8:30am-9:00am EST
tavis: good evening from los angeles. tonight a conversation with motown legend smokey robinson, the man considered to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time is now out with a cd called "now and then". this year, the iconic level celebrates its 51st anniversary. we're glad you joined us. a conversation with smokey robinson. >> all i know is his name is james and he has -- needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> for everyone making a difference, you help us live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, we're glad to join tavis in
working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions from your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. tavis: always pleased to have williams smokey robinson on this program. the disc is a terrific collection of classic songs and more recent material. it is always an honor to have you on this program. >> my pleasure. you are my brother. >> i want some of that genius to
run off on me. tavis: speaking of genius, i got a chance to see this inside the white house. every time i see things like this i get reminded of how brilliant you and mr. gordy and all of you at motown, you did music that was so all that that people are still celebrating and still rocking to it all these years later. >> it is wonderful. it is a thrill. there were five people there and he said i will start this record company. he said we would not just played black music, we will play music for everyone. we will always try to have quality music. i was just playing. and to see what is happening down through the years, he and i talk all the time. we have been talking and we were
talking about how it has grown beyond any of our wildest dreams. nobody in that room could imagine that motown would become what it has become and it is amazing. i sat there and even at the rehearsal for the show, i was at the rehearsal and i was listening to all these young people and some veterans were there also. singing the motown music. and i kind of teared up. i thought about the fact we only 0.01 of the. catalog. >tavis: i cannot tell you the number of artists i have talked to and you ask them to name five
of the greatest songwriters in the history of the world. you are always on everybody's list as the great songwriter. wrote so much of the catalog. >> i am blessed. i enjoy every part of my life. i enjoy writing songs. i have been writing songs since i was 5. the first song i ever wrote that anyone other than my mother and me heard, i was 6 years old and in a school play and my teacher allowed me to write a song for that play. i've always tried to write songs. when i met berry gordy, he taught me how to write songs professionally. i am blessed, like i said. tavis: does the process change over time? i ask that because on the one hand, if you know how to write a song, you know how to write a song. there are so many songwriters
who are hits in eight particular era but not necessarily as a songwriter in another era. it is not like you lost your skill to write a good song. what happens in those intervening years if it is not the fact that you got stuck and forgot to write a good song. what happens with the gift with the times and the people that allows the songwriter to write hits in one era and you do not hear from him for ever? >> i cannot speak for other songwriters. my philosophy on writing for myself is i always want to write a song. i always want to write a song. i realize that as a record producer or singer or whatever, i might not -- if i record it myself or someone else, i might not give it the right treatment so that the world or many people would expect it. it would be a public hit.
if it is a song 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, someone could take this song and recorded and it would be a hit. i always start with a song. i approach everyone with that thought in mind. if i had written at 50 years or more. is it going to mean something 50 years from now and i always approach it from that. i love music and i have loved music of my life and i listen to music all the time. if you could see my ipod or even my car. back toeveryone from ac nellie. i think about as light buchan beethoven and the king: cole porter wrote songs that have lasted and stood the test of time. people are still playing him. people are still playing bach and beethoven.
>> is beethoven the greatest composer of all time? >> i do not know. enough anything, you listen to his music now, it is soothing and you have to listen, they wrote in movements in those days. i listen and read this thing one time, reading up on beethoven. there was a point in his life when they were trying to ban his music. you know why? take a guess what it wanted to ban his music while he was living. tavis: i know about him losing his hearing. >> they said it was too sexy. they said it would arouse - tavis: he was bringing sexy back. >> it would arouse the young
ladies. if you could hear the music -- if they could hear the music they play today. tavis: the other part of the story, you know you are a bad boy when you lose your hearing and you still right. >> absolutely. tavis: unbelievable. >> he was music. it did not happen if he could hear it or not. he could hear it in his mind and write it down. hearing it in his mind. he was music. he is one of my favorite writers. tavis: tell me about this new project. what is looking robinson doing hanging out at cracker barrel that t? >> yeah. i am associated with time live. this is made up of two different eras of music. the now music is from my latest
cd, "time flies when you're having fun". i recorded five or six of my concerts' life last year and picked some of the songs from this concert to go into the cd because cracker barrel is a chain of restaurants stores in the south, basically. they wanted an exclusive cd for them. i recorded some of my vintage music and mixed in with that music. its exclusively at cracker barrel and on their website. that is the only place this cd can be found. if you want some good old home town cooking and some good old home town grits and biscuits -- tavis: and some smokey.
when you are riding around town, going from the airport and the radio is on and a smokey robinson tune comes on, do you get over the feeling of this joyful feeling, does a smile come across your face? >> first of all i turnabout. -- turn it up. tavis: i like that. >> it is a joy. tavis: after all these years? >> yes, it is a dream come true as a songwriter. if i hear one of my songs by anybody, it is a dream come true every time for me as a songwriter. wyck explained. hutterite a song? i want to write a song of the world can sink and always will sing. many times when it started to happen, when the first guys who came out who were doing the rap and sampling some of your songs, there were people who i know, they sampled my music.
sample old mine. sample oall of mine. first of all, what better form of flattery is that for young artist who was not even born when that song was written, to hear that song and say, i am -- love this song so much i will included in one of my songs. do you know what i mean? as a songwriter, that is a dream come true for me. i love hearing my music. i hear -- love. by other people. i hope it will always be played. tavis: does it ever get old when people do want to hear " tears of a clown" again and again?
you got to get tired of singing this sometimes. >> from the bottom of my heart, as god is my witness. every night, every single sung ry night, i have some of those songs thousands of times. every nht, they are new to me. tavis: how is that possible? >> i do not know. every night when i sing it every night is like i never sang a before. never seen themi before because i am having a good time and i am enjoying myself and the people. i never want to go and slough off. i never want to have someone go out of a concert of mind saying, i could have stayed home. i do not want to do that to people. it would be difficult -- you are my brother and you and either sitting here and you say, at
sing a song for me. that will be difficult. i do not care if it is five people or 5000 or 10,000. there is a spark, i am having a good time. there have been times when i have been to a concert and it is not full. so what? there are people out there and they came to see as. i do not want to say there is only a few people so we will run through this quick. i feel like they came, would have a good time and let's enjoy ourselves. every night is something new. tavis: what i love about you is the same is true for berry gordy and stevie wonder. you are long distance runners. long distance. it is not know spread. talk about beethoven. -- it is not no sprint.
what about the lean years when the places where not sold out. how did you get through that part of your life? >> i recognized show business and always have. first of all, i recognize the fact that ok, i am smokey robinson. who is smokey robinson? that is billion -- william robinson, a junior who grow up in the hood and had this well dream that perhaps one day, i could be in show business. ok? great, great relationship with god. i have always known god all my life so i am blessed because he heard my prayer. he heard my need to do this.
i am not going to put myself in a position where i think, ok, i am no longer william robinson. i am smokey robinson. do you know what i mean? that don't fly. you know what i mean? everybody is equal when it comes down to the essence of life. we're all equal. if he is doing nothing, if he is a derelict on hollywood boulevard. he is equal. his life may not be happy equally but in the eyes of god and reality, he is equal. either know i am blessed. i live my dream. i am not going to take that credit from god. i will not trip on smokey robinson. if i am smokey robinson the grocer, people will have to come
to the store. i recognize that as part of my job. that comes along with it. i think i am bad? wait until next week and usher is going to be there. if i think i am bad, do you know what i mean? wait until a share' -- usher's concert. it goes with the territory. it is part of this life. i will not trip on that. i will know that i am william robinson, jr. and this is the business i am in and there is a lot of accolades that comes with show business. when you start to believe that is who you are, you better check yourself. i have seen thousands of people. i have been doing this for 51
yes. i have seen thousands of people come through show business because they get one or two hits and the get notoriety and they start walking around like, how could the world possibly do without me now, because they are aware of me? i could do whatever i want or say what i want and don't want to do. i tell people all the time, show business changes. no it does not. that notoriety gave the real person a chance to stand up and gives a person a chance to reveal themselves and that's who they were all along. but i recognize the fact i am blessed and i get a chance to live my dream and i'm not going to take people or my life or any of this for granted. i am going to be thankful. tavis: i was laughing on the inside because i hear your point. i am -- you are here tonight and
usher is here next week. hear your point. in this very chair, and it broke my heart, you had this experience yourself. weeks ago in this chair sat bing el debarge. 20 years of damaging your body with drugs and god allows you to have a second chance and your voice still holds up. he made a statement he was checking himself back into rehab because he got week again with the temptation. what do you say to an artist who
has the gift and is struggling trying to get through? >> el is one of my little brothers. they were at motown for a long time and he is one of my little brothers. i had this conversation with el 10 years ago, ok? i myself went through that trip. you know about it. i did for 2.5 years and i started doing it when i was -- i could not have written my life any better than it was going. what i did not realize, i thought this cannot happen to me. i am too strong for this. this is not going to happen to me. as i was going down, it cannot happen to me. drugs do not discriminate. they do not care who you are. or what you are doing or where you are going or any of that. you open the door, they will come in. i had this conversation with el.
for me, i am one of the national drug spokespersons for the united states and i go over the country and speak at rehab graduations, at rehabs, hospitals, and churches, i speak all over the country. when i am speaking on the drug subject, i tell everybody, i do not know what your method for getting yourself off of drugs is, i do not know what rehab your @. i speak at alcoholics anonymous meetings and i never drank but i speak there because the judges who call may have me speak to people who are afflicted and addictive. i tell them all. alcoholics anonymous is the the thing where you go to the meetings and the people get up and say, i am john brown and i am an alcoholic. they are recovering. they're not drunk or anything. the and tell their story. i am mary simpson.
i get up and say, i am smokey robinson and i'm healed. i am free. i am lot going to claim that for the rest of my life. it was a 2.5 year period. unless you get your spiritual self to another, you're not going to beat it. i know people -- people in my family who have been in rehab 15 times. unless you get your spiritual self together, we are spiritual beings and unless you get that part of yourself together, you are not going to beat this unless you recognize the fact that you are a spiritual being and you recognize the fact that before y have heard of drugs, especially before you started doing them, you were living.
you have a life and you were going along with your program and doing what you were doing. what makes you think now you have been introduced to this negativity of drugs that you can possibly not live without them? if i do not have this, i cannot go on. yes you can. you were going on before you knew about that. what i did with mine, i have never been to rahall parikh -- to rehab. i am sorry there were not for peoplee that i knew for them to go to. i tell them all the time. what i did with mine, i have never been to rehab or psychotherapy or doctor. i went to church and i was sprayed for. -- prayed for. i have always had a great
relationship with god. what i did is i turned it over. i get it out. i gave it to god. when you do that, i do not care what your affliction is. food, sex, drugs, whatever it is. if you really want to get rid of it, you cannot go to god and give him something -- if i could have gone to my family, there are people who love you enough to say, give it to me for a couple of weeks because it is killing you. i will take it on but there is nothing like that. they cannot do that. you cannot go to god the with nothing that he will not accept. he will not say last thursday i had an opening. do you know what i mean? tavis: you are preaching. if you are willing to do that, because god is not a dictator. if you are willing to do that, he will not give it back unless
you are going back to get it. if you are -- he gave everyone free will and a free conscience. we're all free. we do not have to accept nothing that we do not want to. tavis: you get all this, the "now and then", and some cracker barrel food. hanging out with smokey robinson. the new classic, "now and then", available exclusively at cracker barrel. smokey robinson, i love you. glad to have you on this program. i never know when or where these conversations will go. >> that is what i love about being here. all i know is you are my brother and you called me. i will be here when i can. i want to say this for you, you have been doing this for 20 years and i am so proud of you. you have kept the integrity of what this is in what you do. there many people at the
microphone who have your position who i wish i could banish them from the air. do you know what i mean? you are upstanding and you are a beautiful brother. 50 more years to you. tavis: for more of my conversation, go to our website. that is our show. see you next time. until then, thanks for watching, and goodnight from l.a., and as always, keep the faith. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: join me next time for bing west and why he says the war in afghanistan is unwinnable. that is next time. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a
difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.